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Unsurpassable Trenches
Romania's Diplomatic Battle, 1943–1944
By Sebastian I. Burduja

“A nation, like a person, has a mind—a mind that must be kept informed and alert, that must know itself, that understands the hopes and needs of its neighbors —all the other nations that live within the narrowing circle of the world.”
—Franklin D. Roosevelt

I
t is the dusk of World War II, a torrid August 1944. As American bombs sow death and destruction, Russian guns roar in the distance. Caught in between, Romania is struggling on history’s battlefi eld, in danger of falling into the Communist abyss. Marshal Ion Antonescu, head of Romania’s Government, and Iuliu Maniu, the main opposition party’s leader, are desperately trying to escape Hitler’s deadly grasp. Despite their countless efforts to negotiate an armistice with the Allies especially between September 1943 and August 1944, the diplomatic talks have come to a dead-end. Far away from the battlefi eld’s dust, in stylish and peaceful salons, the diplomats’ gloved hands hesitate and ultimately fail to sign an acceptable armistice for both sides, thus condemning Romania to Stalin’s expansionist aspirations.

After half a century of heated debates concerning Romanian negotiations for an armistice with the United Nations, historians have only offered incomplete and biased views of the actual causes for the diplomatic talks’ collapse in Ankara, Cairo, and Stockholm. 1 In a peculiar echo of the polarized diplomatic struggle, most analysts that address this issue reveal an exceedingly one-sided understanding of the reasons behind the negotiations’ failure. Romanian historians consistently point at the Allies’ infl exible and arrogant requests, blaming them for the Communist enslavement of Eastern Europe. Conversely, American historiography barely addresses the problem of the negotiations; the handful of authors who deal with it usually blame Romanian politicians for misinterpreting the situation’s gravity. Apart from historians’ often abstract and ambiguous solutions, the bitter memory of a forty- year-long Communist dictatorship still lingers in many people’s minds. A favorable outcome of the Romanian-Allied negotiations in 1943-1944 might have prevented Red expansion in Eastern Europe and even the Cold War’s outbreak; hence, assigning historical accountability for the negotiations’ breakdown becomes an imperative issue.

After conducting a comprehensive study of American and Romanian historians’ views of the armistice talks, one feels the urge to reconcile them and to seek an explanation for the strong divergences they display. While the war’s deep and muddy trenches between Romania and Western Allies have slowly faded, the more abstract cultural and linguistic borders still exist and historiography has proved somehow incapable of surpassing them. This paper starts with a broad factual picture of Romania’s participation in World War II and deliberates on the validity or irrelevance of what historiography identifi ed as possible causes for the breakdown of Romanian- Allied negotiations. After refuting the assertion of a lack of Romanian consensus toward ending the war, one must turn to the broad sources of disagreements that emerged over the course of negotiations. In a chronological order, this paper addresses the armistice terms established prior to and during the Ankara round—Soviet partaking to the talks and Romanians’ unconditional surrender—and later during the Cairo talks, which further stipulated the renunciation of Bassarabia and Bukovina. In addition to these three decisive points of incongruity, one should mention the Romanian mistrust of Stalin’s word, which ultimately led to the breakdown of Stockholm’s negotiations. Avoiding the risk of upholding the one-sided, nationalist views of historians that get bogged down in disagreements over the issue of accountability, this paper endeavors to mitigate these discrepancies and asserts that albeit the armistice conditions were prohibitive of agreement, neither side can be exclusively accountable for such an outcome.

1940-1944: A Brief Historical Overview

Before examining the negotiations’ concrete terms, it is essential to consider their historical context. Understanding Romania’s position in the twentieth century’s largest conflagration sheds a brighter light on Romanian-Allied disagreements that originated in the war’s first stages and later shaped their diplomatic contacts. In 1940, Romania’s traditional allies— France and Great Britain—were bowing before Hitler’s Wehrmacht. The same year, Romanians lost important territories to Hungary and Bulgaria, as well as two provinces to the Soviet Union after Stalin issued a threatening ultimatum. In this moment of crisis, Romanian politicians struggled to save what was left, seeking a powerful nation’s assurance that no other Soviet territorial demands would be tolerated. The Third Reich was the only state that promised not to tolerate further aggressions against Romania’s borders. As a result, Marshal Antonescu adhered to the Tripartite Act and on June 22, 1941, he declared war against the Soviet Union. Antonescu publicly announced that Romania’s only aim in the war against Russia was to regain the provinces that Stalin had snatched in 1940. Furthermore, when Romania joined Hitler’s troops in their action against the Soviet Union, the USSR was not yet allied with the United States and Great Britain (Buzatu 125). Since Romanians could not anticipate that by the end of that year American, British, and Russian interests would converge, they did not consider that their war would upset the Western Allies.

Yet on December 6, 1941, the inevitable struck: Great Britain declared war on Romania, much to the dismay of both Antonescu and Maniu, who had repeatedly announced that the country was waging war only against the Soviets. Regardless of these politicians’ desire to limit the army’s involvement in the war, the Wehrmacht dragged several of its divisions into Crimea and Stalingrad. In the course of three years, the Western Allies’ perception of Romanians changed radically: while in 1941 they viewed Romania as legitimately fighting to recover its lost territories, by the end of 1943 they thought of it as one of Nazi Germany’s faithful Allies. However, the Allies did not comprehend that any resistance to Hitler’s demands would have resulted in total German occupation of the country.2 As a result, with his hands tied, Marshal Antonescu resolutely requested other countries’ support for putting an end to Romania’s participation in the costly war.

In order to receive the Allies’ help, Romanian politicians pursued a long and complex diplomatic course, determined to break the alliance with Hitler and sign an armistice with the United Nations. As early as 1942, Mihai Antonescu, the Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister, tried to persuade Mussolini to leave the Axis Alliance along with Romania, a move which would have been a heavy blow for Hitler’s regime. 3